New data reveals a “shocking disparity” affecting disabled Havering residents applying for a Blue Badge.
On August 30, 2019, England joined the rest of the UK in allowing those with non-visible disabilities, such as Parkinson’s disease or autism, to apply for disabled parking.
However, out of 264 applications submitted to Havering Council by those with non-visible disabilities in the following year, only 33 were accepted.
This is compared to the 3,451 applications approved for residents with physical disabilities, meaning they were 63.1 per cent more likely to receive a badge.
The disparity affecting non-visibly disabled residents in Havering is one of the most dramatic in the country, with only three local authorities reporting a larger gap in approval rates.
Tim Nicholls, from the National Autistic Society, explained a blue badge could be “a lifeline” for sufferers of autism and said he was concerned by the “postcode lottery that has developed”.
He said: “Just leaving the house is incredibly hard for many autistic children and adults. Even a quick trip to the shops or park can involve detailed preparation.
“Some people don’t understand the dangers of the road or are so anxious about things going wrong, like missing an appointment or the car park being full, that they can’t contemplate going out at all.
“These figures highlight the postcode lottery that has developed around Blue Badges. They reflect what we hear from autistic people and their families all the time.
“Too often important changes – like the ones that were supposed to mean more autistic people got a Blue Badge – often simply aren’t being put into practice.
“This must change. Getting a Blue Badge when you need one shouldn’t depend on where you live. The Government must make sure that the new rules are implemented fully across England.
“This means making sure every council has trained its Blue Badge staff, so they understand why autistic people need a Blue Badge and how this will transform their lives.”
James Taylor, from disability equality charity Scope, said the figures showed there was a “shocking disparity” between success rates for those with invisible and visible impairments.
He added: “It highlights the urgent need for staff training of the decision makers in the councils, so they can recognize and understand the range of hidden impairment.
“Councils also need to understand the devastating impact their negative decision can have.”
A total of 109 local authorities responded fully to Freedom of Information requests submitted by the BBC Shared Data Unit and Local Democracy Reporting Service.
Only three local authorities – Nottinghamshire, Surrey and Wandsworth – reported a larger gap than Havering between rates of Blue Badge approvals for the visibly and invisibly disabled.
Cllr David Renard, transport spokesperson for the Local Government Association, responded to the data by saying councils must “try and strike a balance when making changes”.
He said: “Councils want to make sure that local services and communities are as accessible as possible.
“They work closely with health professionals to ensure fair and robust criteria are used in the allocation of blue badges to local residents, including those with non-visible disabilities.
“Councils also have to try and strike a balance when making changes… to ensure there are parking spaces available for everyone at all times of the day and we can keep traffic moving.
“With 10 million more cars on the road in the last 20 years, an increase of a third, this has become increasingly challenging for them.”
Havering Council was contacted on January 5 to offer them an opportunity to respond to the figures but has yet to do so.